Well, the scouting season is well underway for many NHL teams and for the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Services. Today marked a significant day signaling the beginning of the overall hockey season (for everyone except the NHL, of course) as CSS unveiled its watch list for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft which brings about the first American Prospect Update of the 2012-13 season.
Using letter grades for players allows CSS to denote where these guys currently project for the draft, based on their view. A-rated skaters are players who CSS feels are, at this early stage, candidates for the first-round. B-rated denotes a player currently projects for the second or third round, while C-rated players are currently projected fourth round and below.
Keep in mind, this is a very early list and there are plenty of players that Central Scouting is going to be wrong about. There were a few A-rated skaters at this point last year that didn’t even end up getting drafted, so any early lists like these require a grain of salt. That said, it’s a good start and a good way to get primed up for the NHL Draft season ahead.
Coming up after the jump, a look at some of the notable American prospects listed and which have the best chance to rise or fall.
First, a look at all eight of the American skaters that received an A rating. Players in no particular order, as they are grouped by league.
Seth Jones — Portland Winterhawks (WHL) — Jones, a big, toolsy defenseman, is likely going to be in a season-long battle with Nathan MacKinnon for the No. 1 overall spot. Unquestionably the best American prospect in this draft and probably in the last five or six years.
Adam Erne — Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) — The big forward has some natural goal-scoring ability to go with some good hands. He has size and strength, but will need to show another gear this year. How much ceiling is there for Erne? He’s been one of the best and biggest in his class for three years, so that is going to be the big question he has to answer. If he answers the challenge, he could be a top-10, top-15 pick.
Justin Bailey — Kitchener Rangers (OHL) — A big body at nearly 6-4 and 194 pounds, Bailey is making a big jump from Midget hockey to the OHL. How he adjusts to that will go a long way in determining his draft stock. He did well at the Ivan Hlinka against his own age group and has some serious potential, but if he lives up to this pre-season hype is uncertain.
J.T. Compher — U.S. Nat’l U18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — A gritty two-way forward with solid goal-scoring ability, he has enough strength to overcome his relatively light frame (164 pounds). Compher apparently grew to 6-feet, too, so concerns are beginning to melt away about size. He is likely to remain in the first-round conversation all year with his ability to produce and play tough.
Michael Downing — Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) — A rangy defenseman with good feet, Downing really took a big step forward developmentally after making the jump from Michigan high school to the USHL. It didn’t hurt that he spent a lot of time playing with Panthers first-rounder Michael Matheson last year. There’s certainly potential here and if Downing can put up some decent offensive numbers, as he has the tools to do so, he should keep himself in the first-round hunt.
Luke Johnson — Lincoln Stars (USHL) — After missing the last Draft cutoff by just four days, Johnson will be one of the older first-year eligibles. He put up 55 points last season in the USHL, which is pretty solid. He doesn’t have great size however and will have to prove offensively dynamic in the defensively-tough USHL to ensure a first-round selection. Of the USHL players granted A ratings by CSS, I think Johnson is most at risk to slip later.
Ian McCoshen — Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) — At almost 6-3 and 207 pounds, McCoshen has been one of the best in his age group for a while, which may work against him. We’ve seen it happen before where a kid is advanced at 15 and 16 and slips in his draft season (Seth Ambroz, Nick Ebert namely). McCoshen will have to shake that stigma by showing he’s taken yet another step forward. He’s a good two-way defenseman right now, but he has to be a great one to earn the first-round pick. He has the frame and the ability to get there.
Hudson Fasching — U.S. Nat’l U18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — The big forward at 6-3, 190, as measured by CSS, has a massive ceiling, which is a big reason he’s in this group. He showed flashes last season of something better. Showing that he’s taken a step forward from last season and being a consistent offensive threat will go a long way in aiding Fasching’s draft stock. Should he do that, he could move up charts quickly and garner a higher-than-expected selection come June.
Here are some B-rated guys that have a chance to move up down the road:
Steven Santini — U.S. Nat’l U18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — A solid-skating defenseman, Santini showed glimpses last year of elite potential. He has a good stride, plays well in his own end and uses his body well. He has a big enough frame that scouts are going to take note of what he can do. There’s a spot for him on a lot of teams with the way he plays.
Ryan Hartman — Plymouth Whalers (OHL) — The former NTDP standout saw a dip in offensive production last year, but has shown instances of high-end offensive abilities. He plays a very hard-nosed game and he might be able to open that up a bit more in the OHL. Hartman doesn’t have tremendous size, but he’s a good skater and has that mix of productivity and toughness. If the goals come at the OHL level, he could go earlier than the second round.
Other players outside the A rating to watch this year (all players B-rated unless otherwise noted).
Tom Vannelli — Minnetonka (MN-HS) — Vanelli has been a rapidly-developing defenseman in the Minnesota high school ranks. He made the Ivan Hlinka team and got some good exposure. Vannelli has a projectable body and if he takes another step forward, he could sneak into a higher-round consideration. I’ve talked to several folks that are high on Vannelli as one of the best players in the Minnesota High School ranks, so keep a close eye on this one.
Will Butcher — U.S. Nat’l U18 Team (NTDP/USHL) — A high-end offensive defenseman, Butcher doesn’t have great size, but the skills are right in line with top-two round caliber. I think there’s a chance Butcher could earn some first-round looks, especially if he has another highly-productive season. He’s one to watch closely.
Ross Olsson — Lincoln Stars (USHL) — Initially on the CSS preliminary watch list, which precedes the one we’re talking about, Olsson’s size has scouts buzzing. His move to the USHL this year is going to be monitored incredibly closely as the 6-3.5, 202-pound forward will be tested early and often. Some players coming from the East to the USHL have trouble adjusting, so it will be vital for the big man to get acclimated quickly.
Taylor Cammarata — Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) — How much does size matter? That will be the key question asked repeatedly of Cammarata. At 5-7, 156, he is offensively dynamic and was named the USHL’s Rookie of the Year, but a relative lack of physical strength is a concern, as is a lack of elite skating ability. Can the kid that outscored teammate and potential No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon while the two were at Shattuck prove the doubters wrong again? CSS has him as a C-rated skater.
Eamon McAdam — Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) — It’s going to be a rough year for American goaltenders in the NHL Draft, but McAdam could be a bright spot. The 6-2 netminder received a B rating from CSS and should see a lot of quality playing time for one of the USHL’s best teams. He could be the highest American goalie taken in 2013.
Brendan Burke — Portland Winterhawks (WHL) — Well, I guess Burke might have something to say about that. The big netminder for Portland is the son of former NHL netminder and current goalie coach extraordinaire Sean Burke. He is expected to start for the Winterhawks this year and will be on a really strong team. His good bloodlines, pro size and solid team in front of him could help Burke put up some very draft-friendly numbers.
Ryan Fitzgerald — Valley Jr. Warriors (EJHL) — The son of former NHLer Tom Fitzgerald made the decision to go to the EJHL instead of play his senior campaign for Malden Catholic, where he put up a zillion points (I might be exaggerating). The jump to Junior is probably a smart one as guys like Charlie Coyle and Jimmy Vesey were able to parlay dominating the EJHL into higher draft selections. Fitzgerald has some dynamic offensive abilities, but he’ll have to show no drop off in making the jump to Junior A. He should do well in the EJ, especially with fellow draft-eligible Devin Tringale joining him with Valley.
– This might be a bit of a down year for Americans getting selected out of the CHL. There will be top-end guys like Jones and Erne, but not nearly the same number of later-round picks as we’ve seen in recent years. More American kids are opting to stay south prior to their draft season. Then, if they choose, they head north better developed and ready to play a key role on their junior team. For the average American player considering the CHL, waiting until the age 17 or 18 season is almost always better than leaving at 16 as many players have found out the hard way.
– The USHL is banking on another big draft season and they have some of the horses to do it. They might not see six alums go in the first round like last year, but there should be some high-profile selections to help the league take yet another step forward in its quest for parity with CHL clubs.
– There are many second-year eligibles playing in college hockey this year that earned C-ratings from Central Scouting. With the quality of players that got left out at the last draft fairly high, expect another year of many second-year eligibles getting picked. Among those to watch, Quentin Shore (Denver), Frankie Vatrano (Boston College), and Will Merchant (Maine).
– The North American Hockey League got some pre-season love from CSS with five players listed as C-rated skaters and Wichita Falls goalie Evan Cowley earning a B rating. Anthony Stolarz and Connor Hellebuyck were picked up in the draft out of the league last year, which is a good step after a few years with no selections.
– It used to be rare the first round would pass without a Minnesota High School player selected in the first round, but it is becoming common place, with none chosen in the last two years. That trend doesn’t appear like it will be changing unless Vanelli has an explosive season. This is of concern to a lot of the folks up in Minnesota as they feel junior hockey departures are watering down a once-elite product. They’re unfortunately right, but the assets spent on players in junior at this point makes it an unfair competition developmentally for the high school and prep ranks. Players have to make the unenviable choice of staying home and playing for local pride or leaving for a bigger challenge. Plenty of MN-HS players will get picked in the draft, but those elite guys 0f years past like Nick Bjugstad, Nick Leddy and Ryan McDonagh are disappearing from the draft lists.
Well, it is indeed early, but that’s what makes the CSS Watch List so fun. It does paint a picture of the current landscape and it’s always interesting to look back on how things actually transpired. CSS tends to do a nice job of giving a great snapshot of the prospect landscape for the coming year.
Players will raise their game and some guys will come out of nowhere to garner tons of draft buzz later on. That’s the nature of the Draft season and that’s what makes it so fun to follow from start to finish.